As the summer music festival season rolls in, festival organizers across the globe will make significant efforts to create more sustainable events by reducing environmental impacts and educating fans. From solar powered stages to on-site composting, Bonnaroo is leading the way for green music festivals. Tucked away on a farm in Manchester, TN, Bonnaroo celebrated it's 11th year this month and I was stoked to be a part of the celebration.
Phish, one of the 2012 Bonnaroo headliners, has been supporting the green movement since long before "sustainability" was a hash tag on Twitter. Bonnaroo too. Much of the Bonnaroo team hails from the Phish crew, bringing to the table an expertise for organizing large-scale festivals and a true commitment to environmental consciousness. Since it's first throw down in 2002, Bonnaroo has always been committed to promoting sustainability as part of the festivities. Every year the eco-minded activities, amenities and educational workshops continue to expand and this year was no exception. Monday morning, as thousands of music-soaked fans headed home from this year's festival, I had the opportunity to speak with Laura Sohn, Sustainability Coordinator for Bonnaroo.
With six years of working with Bonnaroo under her belt, Sohn has been an integral part of the always evolving green initiatives, including teaching fans how to grow gardens or reduce their carbon footprint all year long. Highlights this year included the Victory Garden in Centeroo and the Carbon Shredders booth.
According to Sohn, "One of our three big highlights has been developing the on-site compost station so that none of that material leaves site. It's a total closed loop." Compost is collected throughout the weekend and then gets used on site at the farm for the trees that they plant, the garden and other various site projects. The two other big initiatives were the Carbon Shredders booth and the Victory Garden, a PlanetRoo demonstration garden where educational workshops are held for people to learn how to garden, compost and grow mushrooms. One of Sohn's favorite on site projects, the Victory Garden, is maintained year round, including all kinds of delicious herbs, such as lemon balm, lavender, fennel and rosemary. "It's important because it encourages people to eat local food" a mainstay passion for Sohn. Most of the fans are from the southeast and there are so many great local resources that they would love to encourage fans to either grow their own or purchase from local farmers. The educational component of the garden ties into their larger initiative with the Carbon Shredders, a Bonnarooo driven project in collaboration with CREx (Carbon Reduction & Energy Exchange). CREx is the organization that completed the carbon footprint analysis for the entire festival. Sohn says "The idea is to help people learn how to reduce their carbon footprint throughout the year when they go home after the festival. It's a big picture kind of education project. We try to communicate with fans throughout the year with tips and information and letting them know what we do as an example of something they can do at home."
Although hugely successful, there are always challenges that exist with an event of this size. A great benefit to the music festival scene is that fans are often already aligned with eco-conscious lifestyles and are interested in learning more. According to Sohn "The biggest challenge for the Bonnaroo team being that the scope of the festival is so large, Bonnaroo really tries to focus on making reductions to their impact, including purchasing offsets and they are working on including permanent on-site renewable energy sources within the next 18 months. They also work with the staff to make sure that as often as possible, materials and supplies are sourced locally." Despite the challenges, as Sohn says "We have a long-term commitment to this philosophy and mission. We know that we can take small steps some years and big steps other years, ultimately working within our mission to be as sustainable as possible."
A five time winner of the "A Greener Festival Award" and the only US festival to have been awarded by this UK-based organization, speaks to their long-standing commitment to creating a festival that is great for the fans but conscious of their environmental impact.
"The nature of Bonnaroo is so high profile, that its definitely an example that if we can make some of these efforts than other smaller festivals can as well." Bonnaroo does have a great advantage by owning the property which allows for more control over what happens on site. Both the on-site composting and the addition of a permanent main stage significantly limit the amount of material that is trucked on and off site, creating measuarable reductions to the environmental impact of the festival.
The greatest impact reduction over the years has been the vast amount of waste diverted from landfills, almost 240 tons in 2011, representing 68% of the total waste created, and the number continues to grow every year. As Sohn stated, it's the most direct way to make change and more volunteers means more waste diverted and sorted. Bonnaroo has also installed a permanent electrical system which reduced generator usage by seventy percent.
In addition to big changes, Bonnaroo is always looking ways to improve the community and the experience for fans in any way possible. This year more water refill stations were added and for the first time, Bonnaroo coordinated with California-based ride-share program Zimride. Combining social networking and carpooling, Zimride is a great way to meet other music lovers and reduce the impact of traveling. Over one thousand fans traveled together via Zimride this year with participation expected to increase next summer.
A a frequent concert-goer and an environmentalist, I know we all want to have a good time and we want to share in the experience of music, but what's also important is finding ways to do that which limit the impact on that place and the larger community. Bonnaroo is committed to the cause, whether educating their fans or improving conditions on the farm. With a captive audience of almost eighty thousand, there really isn't a better opportunity to expose a multitude of green lifestyle choices to the masses. And even those this year's festivities have just come to a close, according to Sohn, new and exciting carbon reducing projects are already in the works for 2013. Personally, I can't wait to do it all again next year.
Image Sources: Ray Terrill; Richard Allen/Green Up Music
A version of this article originally ran on our sister site, Green Up Music.